How much should we push ourselves and how much should we give ourselves space? On the one hand we need to be accepting of our own limitations and on the other hand we need to ask more of ourselves, if we aren’t putting in the maximum effort. In a nutshell this is what the avoda of Sefiras Haomer is all about. Through the discipline of Gevura, we’re trying to focus our powerful drives, Chessed, to make the best blend of the two forces, Tiferes.
In Tinyana 7, Rebbe Nachman teaches that the greatest tzaddik has two types of students. Some of his pupils are great servants of God themselves, while his others are far from perfect. In this way, the tzaddik unites heaven and earth (the great students and the lower students). Only the greatest tzaddikim can live in both worlds, spiriting the great ones to move even higher and encouraging the lower ones not to give up. The Rebbe said that there are angels who would burn up in flames by glancing at some of his students, yet all of Hell isn’t big enough for some of his other students. In fact he told one student that if he didn’t have a fresh intention every time he recited Krias Shema, there was a problem. And to another student he said that if you didn’t do proper teshuva on Yom Kippur, you should just do it the next day. (Parenthetically, this is very much missing today in our school systems and in our Orthodox leadership. Our Ultra-Orthodox communities, hassidic and not, are mainly interested in developing their own specific communities. There is little crossover between outreach and Orthodoxy. On the other hand, Breslov [and Chabad for that matter] is very much in tune to both sides. Walk the streets of Uman on Rosh Hashana and you will see Chassidim who wake at midnight, recite Chatzos and learn 18 hours a day dancing with tattooed, Jewelry covered Israeli kids with shaved heads. The Rebbe’s writings speak to both the advanced and the beginner. The greatest tzaddik unites heaven and earth).
How does he do it? The tzaddik asks his great disciples, “What have you seen? What have you conquered”? He helps them see that, although they’ve come far in their service, there’s so much more to go. Whereas to his followers that are ready to give up hope, he encourages them, saying, “Hashem can be found everywhere, even in a place as low as you are”.
I think, in a certain sense, we need to emulate this aspect of the tzaddik in our own lives. It’s hard to know if we’re just patting ourselves on the back when we should be trying harder. And sometimes it would be more beneficial, in the long term, to take our foot off the gas and allow ourselves some space to recover. But we need to see ourselves as two sets of students. We need to care about ourselves, as much as a loving father cares about his son. He’s always taking the pulse of his beloved son, pushing him just enough. So too we need to care about ourselves. We know ourselves the best. In some aspects we need to be firm, spurring ourselves to push on. In other places, we need to appreciate and celebrate even the smallest accomplishments. It’s not a contradiction. People can be pretty complex. The same person can be very driven and very lazy in two different things. We need to understand this duality about ourselves and accept our own multiplicities. Let’s mimic the tzaddik and speak to those two personalities in a unique way that only we know how. In this way, we can be a mini-tzaddik, uniting the heavens and the earth.